From the time a child starts to be able to respond to questions, one of the most persistent questions comes down to some form of “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The answer to that question is somewhat dependent upon what kinds of occupations a child is exposed to. When I was a preschooler in Winnebago, MN, we lived a block from one of the main roads out of town. It was also the road that led to the gravel pit and all day long gravel trucks drove up and down that street. I was captivated by the big rigs and quickly got to recognize many that traveled that route regularly. They all had big numbers on the side and I knew that #2 was a semi-trailer truck, while #4 and #5 were common dump trucks. I started to recognize the drivers and waved to them and they waved back.
At that time in my life, being a gravel truck driver looked like the greatest job in the world. I dreamed of the day I would be able to sit behind the steering wheel of one of those giant trucks.
Then came the bump in the road. I was a picky eater and one of the foods I disliked most was carrots. To this day, I do not eat them if I can avoid them. But my mother said that if I wanted to be a truck driver, I needed good eyesight. Carrots, she said, were good for the eyes and I should eat my carrots if I wanted to become a truck driver. That worked for a little while, but soon, as I gagged on the hated orange vegetable, I decided that it was not worth it and left my dream of being a truck driver behind. (I did end up driving a school bus for several years in college and seminary and spent a summer driving a garbage truck in Glacier National Park.)
Recently, there was a photograph published on Facebook. It showed ten distinguished looking black men in suits. The caption said, “Ten black physicians. What if that were the most familiar image for little black boys?” There are troubling overtones to this post that tend toward racism. But I think the poster’s heart is in the right place. Positive role models are needed for all children, black, white, Asian, Latino, whatever. Kids tend to look up to what they see around them.
There are notable exceptions, but unfortunately kids who have limited exposure to positive role models are more likely to end up following negative role models. You may have an opportunity to change those perceptions. If you have a young child in your family, neighborhood, or church family that looks up to you, do your best to prove worthy.
It can become trying at times. One summer when I was in college, I taught some young boys in Vacation Bible School, and one of those boys ended up coming to see me almost every day. It got a little tiring, but he had no other (semi) adult male role model. I do not think I took that responsibility seriously, but maybe I helped some.
Maybe you can do the same.